Snowy Valleys Council Interim General Manager Bob Stewart attended the NSW Annual Local Government last week.
He said Premier Mike Baird praised Snowy Valleys Council for their post-amalgamation cost savings, in an address to the attending senior local government staff.
“Premier Mike Baird spoke about the focus of councils being to build infrastructure and services to communities, and that reform is about the future,” Mr Stewart said.
“He mentioned Snowy Valleys and some of the savings we’ve achieved already, particularly highlighting the savings in insurance by combining our two insurances. He also recognised that this has been a difficult period in time that we have been working with.”
Mr Stewart said Snowy Valleys council had saved around $81, 000 by combining the insurance schemes of the former Tumut and Tumbarumba shire councils.
“I suspect we’re going to pick up some other savings, but we haven’t quantified that,” he said. “We’ve just integrated our bitumen sealing contract. Now both former councils had very large bitumen sealing programs and we expect next year it’s going to be over a million dollars, so there should be some savings in there going with one tendering.
“There are certainly savings that are occurring at the moment in the rationalisation of our committees. Where both councils used to send delegates to, lets say REROC (Riverina Eastern Regional Organisation of Councils), we would have four people going previously. We only have two now. So there’s savings in there.”
The NSW Annual Local Government Conference was held in Wollongong.
Mr Stewart said there were anti-merger protesters in front of the conference, but that the attitude amongst attendees inside regarding the merger was mixed.
“Both the Minister and the Premier were questioned on reform – they agreed to meet with particularly Shoalhaven council and one of the city-based councils to have a discussion,” he said.
“But the government certainly wasn’t walking away from reform, they were saying it was necessary, it needed to be done, it was overdue, and they were backing where they were at.”
“[Local Government Minister Paul Toole] was questioned about reform by some of the councils, who were asking why they went to the election saying no mergers and then mergers occurred. He answered by saying look, over the last four years they’ve consulted with the sector and according to the many reports that came out reform was necessary.
“It was about planning for reform for the community, not just for today but for the future – that was the theme of the Premier and the Minister’s addresses.”
Tumut and Tumbarumba councils were amalgamated into the Snowy Valleys Council in May this year.
Mr Stewart said the new council is in the process of undertaking four consultancies: brand and image, human resources, information and communications technology, and metrics (or cost effectiveness).
The purpose of the consultancies is to analyse the workings of council and to make recommendations for improvements.
Several newly amalgamated councils took their case to the NSW Land and Environmental Court, but these challenges were dismissed on October 7.
The councils – Cabonne, which is amalgamating with Blayney and Orange; Oberon, which is amalgamating with Bathurst; and Gundagai, which is amalgamating with Cootamundra – now plan to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
They were ordered to pay for the legal costs of the court challenges.
Minister Paul Toole also signalled in his address that further reforms would be coming in the form of a changed Local Government Act.